The Supreme Court finally spoke to both these matters with its decision in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison.37 Hardison's religious faith dictated that he observe the Sabbath by refraining from work between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday. Hardison was a union member and subject to the terms of a collective bargaining agreement that contained a seniority clause governing shift assignments among employees. Hardison had sufficient seniority to keep his Sabbath without hindering his job status. When he transferred to another building, however, he lost that seniority and subsequently was asked to work on a Saturday.
When he refused, his employer could not accommodate him without violating the seniority clause and denying other employees with seniority their shift preferences. Covering these shifts would require TWA to hire an extra employee or have current employees work overtime for overtime pay. The union refused to make an exception to the seniority clause in the collective bargaining agreement. No mutually satisfying alternative could be reached, and Hardison was ultimately discharged for not reporting to work on Saturdays.
Hardison subsequently sued both TWA and the union under Title VII.38 His case reached the U.S. Supreme Court after a trial in which the employer and union prevailed, and a subsequent appeal to the Eight Circuit held TWA, but not the union, liable under Title VII.39
In judging TWA's conduct, the Supreme Court held that seniority systems, absent a discriminatory purpose in their operation, are not unlawful merely because their operation may result in discriminatory consequences.40
Thus, while collective bargaining agreements and union security clauses could not be used to thwart Title VII, the duty to make a reasonable accommodation of an employee's religious beliefs did not require TWA to violate the seniority clause contained in its collective bargaining agreement with the union.41
The Court also stated that if accommodating Hardison's need for Saturdays off caused the company significant expense, it would constitute an undue hardship to TWA.42 The Court also considered the possible effect of such an accommodation on the seniority rights of the other employees under the seniority clause.43 The prospect of violating other employees' contract rights of seniority to accommodate Hardison's religious beliefs was unacceptable to the Court, and it refused to obligate employers or unions to do so.44
Hardison focused on the employer's obligation to accommodate a religious objection that conflicted with a provision in a collective bargaining agreement. Litigation following Hardison further refined the extent of a union's obligation to make reasonable accommodations to employees' religious objections to membership. The Yott court's final outcome was a direct result of applying the Hardison ruling on the treatment of seniority clauses to union security clauses as well.45